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For five 'clams,' you can dig up a mess of bivalves - August 7, 2012

It's the middle of summer. The water is soft and warm. The surf is a mere ruffle and below the soft bottom of the coastal bays lies a wonderful harvest of tasty clams.

According to a story in The New York Times by Elaine Louie, "The Encyclopedia Britannica calls clams 'boring bivalves,' but if their lives are monotonous, their afterlives certainly aren't. They have a sweet briny flavor and a pleasing chewiness that makes them irresistible raw with a squeeze of lemon, steamed in white wine with garlic and parsley or, in the simplest of sandwiches, batter-fried and stuffed into a soft roll with tartar sauce, lettuce and tomato."

Clamming is a primordial experience. All it involves is walking slowly into the water, bending over and groping in the sediment in search of a hard, slightly rounded shape. Clamming requires no equipment, except maybe a bucket. It demands no talent, except a notion of where the clams are. Like fishing, trapping and hunting, it is one of the most ancient ways to gather food.

Recreational clammers, such as you and I, can meet a clam on its own rhythmic terms by simply wading into 2 feet of water and groping about in the sand. Or they can navigate a more energetic plan like acquiring a clam rake and carry a wire basket on a flat to keep the catch alive.

The hard clam is an important recreational and commercial species in the coastal bays. In 2001, specific management plans were adopted for hard clam populations to conserve the coastal stocks, protect their ecological and socioeconomic values, and optimize the long-term utilization of the resources.

The hard-shell clam is known locally as the northern quahog (or Mercenaria mercenaria, from the days when the Indians used the shells as wampum).

Littlenecks (an inch and a half across), topnecks (2 inches) cherrystones (2 and a half inches) and chowders (three and a half inches) are all quahogs at different ages and stages of tenderness. The fragile-shelled steamer clam is also local, as are slender razor clams, about 3 inches long and an inch wide.

Hard clams are a benthic organism that require good water quality conditions to survive. Clam densities relatively close to or above the threshold indicate that the water quality and physical conditions are suitable for clam growth and reproduction.

A clam's shell consists of two (usually equal) halves, which are connected by a hinge joint and a ligament which can be external or internal. In clams, two adductor muscles contract to close the shells. The clam has no head, and usually has no eyes, but a clam does have kidneys, a heart, a mouth and an anus. Clams, like most mollusks, also have an open circulatory system, which means their organs are surrounded by watery blood that contains nutrients and oxygen. Clams feed on plankton by filter feeding. Clams filter feed by drawing in water containing food using an incurrent siphon. The food is then filtered out of the water by the gills and swept toward the mouth on a layer of mucus. The water is then expelled from the animal by an excurrent siphon.

If you haven't tried clamming yet (or even if you have), we have a great opportunity for you. And the best part is you're helping us raise money to keep our bays clean.

Macky's Bayside Bar & Grill is hosting its fourth annual White Clam Open on Sunday, Aug. 12. The White Clam Open is a catch-and-release clamming competition which takes place on the beach at Macky's on 54th Street and the bay. Tickets are only 5 clams ($5), which includes a Bloody Mary, bucket and float. Registration starts at 11 a.m. and the event begins at noon sharp. There will be perpetual trophies for the biggest bivalve caught and the most clams caught. There will also be clam-inspired food and drink specials. Participants must be 21 and older, but children are invited to take part in a "Clamival," for which Coastal Stewards will have games and activities set up.

The funds raised during the competition will benefit the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, whose mission is to protect and conserve the waters and surrounding watershed of Maryland's coastal bays.

Sandi Smith is marking and development coordinator and Davonte Taylor is technical outreach intern with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 


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